What are the Construction Design & Management Regulations (CDM) and what are the duties of the ‘client’ under the CDM?

What is the CDM and who does it apply to?

The CDM sets out the legal duties of organisations and individuals involved in construction works to ensure that works comply with the law and secure health, safety and welfare.

Organisations or individuals can be one or more duty holders for a construction project.

Who are the main duty holders under the CDM?

The main duty holders are the ‘client’, ‘principal designer’ and ‘principal contractor’.

Who is the ‘client’ under the CDM?

For the purposes of the Construction Design & Management Regulations, the ‘client’ is an organisation or individual for whom a construction project is carried out.

On a project there may be more than one organisation or individual who will be the ‘client’ under the CDM. The CDM permits one or more clients to agree in writing to be treated as the only client or clients under the CDM (subject to certain general duties to cooperate and provide information).

This article only covers the duties of commercial clients, these being individuals and organisations having construction work carried out as part of their business. Where clients have construction work carried out not in connection with any business (e.g. works to their own home) the CDM does not require clients to carry out client duties. These duties are passed to other duty holders.

Who is the principal contractor and principal designer under the CDM?

The principal designer is a designer with the duty to plan, manage and coordinate the planning, design work and health and safety during the pre-construction phase.

The principal contractor is a contractor with the duty to plan, manage and coordinate the construction work and health and safety during the construction phase.

What are the duties of the client under the CDM?

The overall duty of the client is to make and maintain suitable arrangements for managing a construction project so that health, safety and welfare is secured. The client’s duties include:

#1 – Appointing the right duty holders at the right time

If the construction works involve more than one contractor, you need to appoint a principal designer and principal contractor in writing.

Under the CDM any individual or organisation carrying out construction work (including building, altering, maintaining or demolishing) and any person or organisation that manages this work or employs or engages construction workers is a contractor.

You should appoint the principal designer as early as possible in the design phase ideally at the concept stage of the project. The principal contractor should also be appointed as early as possible and before the construction phase begins.

You are required to take reasonable steps to ensure that the principal designer and principal contractor comply with their CDM duties.

If you do not appoint a principal designer or principal contractor (where required to do so) you will be responsible for fulfilling their duties under the CDM.

#2 – Notifying the works

You must ensure that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is notified of the project where the duration of construction works is 30 days or more with more than 20 workers at the same time, or involves 500 person days of work.

If subsequent changes to a project’s scope means that the project becomes notifiable, the HSE must be notified as soon as reasonably practicable.

#3 – Providing pre-construction information

You are required to provide information relevant to the construction works to all contractors and designers appointed or who may be appointed on the project as soon as reasonably practicable. This is to ensure that your designer and contractors understand the project, site, existing structures and any hazards and risks that may be present.

Any health and safety information and instructions you provide must be clear, easy to understand and provided in good time for designers and contractors to safely carry out their activities.

#4 – Ensuring arrangements for welfare facilities

You need to ensure that your contractors have made arrangements for adequate welfare facilities for their workers prior to commencing construction works. This includes adequate toilet and washing facilities and an area for construction workers to rest, change and securely store their clothing.

#5 – Ensuring effective communication

You are required to ensure your designers and contractors can effectively communicate and cooperate with you and each other and coordinate their activities.

Clear communication to and between your designers and contractors during both the design and construction phase is key to ensure that the works progress as planned and to secure health, safety and welfare.

#6 – Ensuring a construction phase plan is put in place

The principal contractor is required to draw up a plan explaining how health and safety risks will be managed during the works. You should not permit works to commence until this is in place.

The level of detail of the construction phase plan required is proportionate to the complexity, size and nature of the construction works.

#7 – Ensuring a health and safety file is prepared and updated

A health and safety file is required for projects involving more than one contractor.

You are required to ensure that the principal designer prepares, updates and keeps available for inspection, a health and safety file for the project. On completion of the project you should ensure you are given the health and safety file. The health and safety file should be provided to anyone involved in the future alteration or maintenance of the building.

What happens if I do not fulfil my duties as a client?

If you do not comply with the CDM, the HSE or your local authority may investigate and stop the construction works. In the case of serious breaches, you could be prosecuted.

HSE has published useful guidance available on its website here.